Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Farewell to an old standby

After 244 years, the Encyclopedia Britannica is finally going out of print.

This bothers me in many ways. It's not that the Encyclopedia Britannica is disappearing, but it is going to an online version. So what happens when the zombie apocalypse happens and all the computers don't work? Will we all be forced to get our knowledge from out of date encyclopedias?

Well, I did growing up, and it hasn't seemed to hurt me any. My parents were determined that we needed an encyclopedia in our house, but we couldn't afford a new one. My mom managed to pick up one from a yard sale--I'm not sure that it was the Britannica, off the top of my head. Twenty-six maroon tomes with faded gold lettering from 1956. I remember very distinctly reading in 1995 about "when man someday makes it to the moon."

I had a conversation with a colleague this morning about whether or not this was taking knowledge away from those who don't necessarily have technological access, but given the cost of encyclopedias, it was doubtful that they would be in a lower-income home anyway (at least not new--perhaps an out of date edition, like the one we had). We gathered that the idea is that if you have access to a library where you would be able to see a normal encyclopedia, you would have access to computers. But computers in libraries are often busy, assuming the library has them at all, and there are some public libraries in poor areas that don't.

I understand that this is an economic decision, and that the Encyclopedia Britannica print edition has probably been losing money for the last ten or fifteen years, if not more. But I do still hope that there will be a few print copies out there from the updated material, perhaps in the Library of Congress or in the Britannica offices. Just in case the zombies come.

1 comment:

  1. I think this could also mean that many students may view Britannica, which name gives the information more authority, as less credible and comparable to wiki or any other site accessible online. I think having such authoritative material digitized allows people to think it's okay to believe whatever they see in any online medium, forums, personal websites, blogs without trying to figure out who said what and why should we believe or disbelieve this source. However, maybe Britannica is merely getting with the times and people are already believing whatever sound bite or tweeted line posted on whatever random site. It's an interesting discussion nonetheless.